Tuesday, June 11, 2013

E3 2013: The Story So Far

So what do you guys think about E3 so far this year?

We're really only a day and a half into it, but we've already seen major keynotes and showcases from Microsoft and Sony (Nintendo declined to hold a major conference at E3 this year, opting instead to go with pre-recorded Nintendo Direct broadcasts), along with a few developers including EA, Ubisoft and Square Enix.

I'll be honest, a lot of what has been showcased at this year's E3 isn't really of interest to me.  Call of Duty: Ghosts, Gran Turismo 6, GTA V, inFamous: Second Son, a new Halo, Forza 5, Battlefield 4... As nice as they might look, none of these games really hold that much appeal for me personally.  I'm sure they'll be huge sellers and will make or break the next console generation, but I'm not going to buy a console on the basis of any of the above.

That said, chances are I will end up buying a console, and chances are it'll be a PS4.   There are a number of reasons for this, and not all of them are based on E3-exclusive information.  But I'll get to that in a minute.

Here are some of the things we've learned so far during E3:

 · Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, despite having a ludicrous title compared to past installments, actually looks pretty awesome (for those of you not in the know, Blackgate Penitentiary and Arkham Asylum are two totally different places.  Arkham is where the crazies go, while Blackgate is more your standard prison).  At any rate, some people have criticized Batman: AOB as appearing derivative, simply copying-and-pasting the format established by the previous two games, but I loved Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, so I have no real problem with this.  Plus, it looks incredible.  NEED MORE BATMAN.  (UPDATE 6/14/2013: Batman: AOB is the 3DS\Vita version.  The PC\console version is just Batman: Arkham Origins.  I knew this at the time, but somehow in my rush to get all of this down, I subconsciously crammed the two games together.)

 · Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has been in development purgatory for some time, is now Final Fantasy XV.  I don't know anything more about it than that, but good GOD, I hope they go with a more open-world approach than FFXIII and FFXIII-2.  After logging more hours into Final Fantasy XII than I've every put into a game in my life (somewhere in the vicinity of 120 hours), I was absolutely crushed by my disappointment with Final Fantasy XIII: it was linear, boring and annoying all at once.  I wasn't the only one either.  So, assuming they make some much-needed changes in design, I am reservedly optimistic about FFXV.

 ·  Kingdom Hearts III!  Finally!  Oh my god give me Kingdom Hearts III and I'll be your best friend forever.

 · The games that I am excited about?  Besides the ones mentioned above, we've got The Order: 1886, Rain, The Witness, and Watch_Dogs.  The Order: 1886 looks like a steampunky third-person actioner; Rain is an indie platformer about an invisible boy who can only be see in the rain; The Witness is a Myst-like adventure game by Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid; Watch_Dogs, which I've been eagerly anticipating since I saw a tech and gameplay demo for it back in December, could be revolutionary, an entirely new type of open-world action game.

While not all of the above are exclusive to PS4 (in fact, I don't believe any of them are, with the exception of maybe one or two), THAT is a lineup of games worth my time and attention.

Other points of interest:

 ·  Mega Man is joining the Smash Bros. roster.  I'm not 100% sure how I feel about this - first off, Mega Man's previous foray into fighting games, with an appearance in Street Fighter x Tekken, was... less than dignified.  Secondly, while I've never had anything against the Smash Bros. franchise, I've also never really enjoyed playing it the way I've enjoyed any of the Capcom fighting game series.  I do like the cel-shaded look of the new Smash Bros. on the 3DS, however, so I'll be keeping an eye on this one.

 ·  In the New Super Mario 3D World, you can be a cat.  As in, you can get a cat suit that, I guess, gives you special cat powers?  My girlfriend would love this, if we had a Wii U or had any plans to buy one ever.

 · Fumito Ueda and Team Ico's The Last Guardian appears to be on hiatus, according to Sony president Jack Tretton.  This is unfortunate news, since as you are probably aware, Shadow of the Colossus is one of my all-time favorite games and The Last Guardian looked like it would be a worthy follow-up, but I suspect this isn't the last we've heard about it.  I'm actually really surprised to hear that it's been back-burnered, since a) I was under the impression that it was practically done based on various screenshots and gameplay videos I've come across, and b) there was a lot of positive buzz about the game leading up to E3, and everyone was expecting a formal announcement. (UPDATE 6/13/2013 - Ueda and Tretton have clarified that The Last Guardian is not "on hiatus" but simply not at a stage where they're ready to formally announce it.)

 · The sequel to Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, called The Walking Dead: 400 Days, has been announced for pretty much every platform imaginable.  In terms of visual style and gameplay, it looks pretty much like the first season (of the game - not necessarily the TV show) and you know what?  As with Batman: AOB, I am perfectly okay with that.  Don't fix what ain't broke.
(UPDATE 6/13/2013 - 400 Days is not a sequel to The Walking Dead, but rather a DLC pack with an entirely new story.  The official sequel to TWD is still forthcoming.)

 · There's a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past coming out for the 3DS, called The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.  It looks like a somewhat graphically-updated version of ALttP, but with the added mechanic of Link turning himself into a two-dimensional cave painting of sorts and moving along walls and whatnot.  I will play this game so hard.

(UPDATE: 6/15/2013) I realized that I didn't say much about Nintendo the first time around.  This is because honestly, there wasn't much to say halfway through the Expo, and there still isn't much to say now. 

I'm not sure if Nintendo knew what was coming with this E3 and just decided to stay out of the way of Microsoft and Sony, or if they decided on a lesser presence because they're still stinging from the Wii U sales debacle.  The fact of the matter is that the Wii U has been a major problem for Nintendo: awareness is nowhere near what they need it to be (a significant number of consumers think the Wii U is a regular Wii add-on, to the point where Nintendo send out a recent press release on the console recently), the architecture is a generation behind, rivaling the PS3 and Xbox 360 rather than the new generation, and developers aren't interested in making games for it until sales pick up. 

Nintendo had a rocky start with the 3DS too, and numbers have picked up on that as the company's moved past the back-patting novelty of the (admittedly very cool) glasses-free 3D feature and started focusing on third-party, and first-party, titles.  Right now with the Wii U, they're behaving the same way: fixating on the tablet controller, which is in no way as interesting as the 3DS' 3D feature, as if this is a good enough reason to invest in the console. 

I have some basic problems with the Wii U: the name is stupid, for starters.  I want an aerodynamic controller, not a tablet.  And I want a console with the processing power to rival a PS4 or an XBONE.  I'm not buying a console just for first-party titles, even if they are well-developed.  It'll be interesting to see how Nintendo digs themselves out of this one.

Although it sounds like Microsoft may have done the job for them: this article at NintendoLife indicates that Wii U sales on Amazon have spiked from #243 to #50.  Microsoft's loss in Nintendo's gain, I guess?

And now onto the main event: the Xbox One (which everyone is hilariously calling the XBONE) and the PS4.

There's been a lot of debate about who "won" E3, and there's no doubt in my mind that it was Sony.  A lot of this actually has to do with pre-existing factors that both companies brought in to the Expo: the Xbox 360 and the PS3 both have built-in fanbases that conform, or at least appear to conform, to certain characteristics.  Xbox fans are seen to be your typical "Bro" - they're the fratboy who plays multiplayer Battlefield or Halo and curses out their teammates.  PS3 fans play JRPGs and indie games like Journey - they come across as more intellectual and sophisticated, more willing to take a risk on new properties and genres.

Now, let me make something clear: I'm not saying this IS the case, or that I think all Xbox owners are fratboy douches and all PS3 owners are artsy intellectuals.  What I am saying is that this is the perception amongst a lot of people, from the gaming media to the developers to Microsoft and Sony themselves. And while there's a lot of cross-over amongst upcoming games (both Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV look like they're getting simultaneous releases on the XBONE and the PS4), there's still this idea amongst consumers that they're joining a tribe when they buy either a PS4 or an XBONE.  And frankly, there are two types of hardcore gamers: the ones who exclusively buy the big-budget titles like Battlefield 4 and GTA V because they've had luck with those franchises in the past and there's a high degree of polish in the new entries, and the ones who are on the lookout for something new and exciting and progressive and novel.  And simply based on track record, Sony has offered more of the latter, while Microsoft has offered more of the former. 

So why does this matter when so many of the announced titles are non-exclusive?  If I can play Kingdom Hearts III on either a PS4 or an XBONE, why would I learn towards the PS4?  Well:

 · Price.  The PS4 is is going to sell at $399, while the XBONE will be $499.  Sure, the XBONE comes bundled with the Kinect, but I've never been all that impressed with either the functionality or the implementation of the Kinect, and I don't see myself playing a lot of games that are built around a motion-sensing mechanic.  Besides that, if I have the option to play the same game on either system, why would I opt for the more expensive one?

 · Used and Shared Games. Microsoft really dropped the ball on this, with an overly complicated and consumer-punishing system designed to appease developers.  So basically, IF the developer even allows game loans or used-game sales (and really, how would that be in any way in their best interests?), the consumer has to jump through multiple hoops and agree to multiple conditions, and even then the game may not be sellable.  Sony, on the other hand, has said straight out that there no restrictions on selling your used games or lending them to your friends. 

 · Always On\DRM\Privacy.  I admit that this is kind of a hot-button topic for me, as I've been anti-DRM since it was introduced.  The fact is that Microsoft and Sony both made a statement regarding DRM with their new consoles - for Microsoft, it was that they were moving towards it and thus placing their developers' interests over their customers, while for Sony it was that they were rejecting it and thereby putting their customers first and foremost.  The XBONE requires an always-on internet connection, and the Kinect camera must be powered on before the console itself will power up.  Understandably, some people are getting up in arms over this, as it indicates the potential for the invasion of privacy or the reliance on an outside resource being available.  What if Microsoft's servers get hacked and get taken down in a DDoS attack?  What if you live somewhere that doesn't offer reliable or fast internet? 

 · Function.  The Xbox One has been presented as a sort of all-in-one device: a gaming console, a media center, a video editor, a whatever-the-hell-the-Kinect-is-for... But you know what?  I already have one of those, and it's called a PC.  Seriously, I know I might be in the minority here, but I have my desktop computer hooked up to my TV running the free, open-source media center package MediaPortal, along with menus for all of my regular PC games, hookups to streaming video services including Netflix, and so on and so forth - if I buy a console, I'm buying it for one reason, and that's to play games.  The problem with Microsoft's approach here is that it's a mark of their losing focus, and potentially allowing the primary function of a gaming console to fall by the wayside in the process.  The PS4 has no such issues - you never get the sense that Sony is getting distracted from the whole point of a console and trying to offer everything under the sun.

 · Region-locking.  The PS4 is region-free, while the XBONE is locked to your region.  Why does this matter?  Well, to begin with, it's just another example of Microsoft levying restrictions against their customers.  More importantly, though, it means that someone in the UK can order a game that is maybe exclusive to the US and have no problems playing it on the PS4, while XBONE owners are limited in terms of what they can play and where they can buy it from.

With all this in mind, it's really no surprise that a lot of people feel that Sony won E3 - even Sony themselves know that they knocked it out of the park.  So are these are downsides to the PS4?  Well, for starters, if you want to play multiplayer, you have to sign up for Sony's PSN+ service, which is about $60 a year, or $5 a month.  I personally don't care about multiplayer, so I probably won't sign up for PSN+ (unless other reasons to do so compel me to change my mind).  This falls in line with my earlier statement regarding the Xbox vs. Playstation tribes, though - If the XBONE's one saving grace is that it offers free multiplayer, then it's going to attract a certain type of gamer.

Ultimately, Microsoft has dropped the ball time and again over the last few weeks since they first announced the XBONE, and Sony has been there to pick up the pieces.  Xbox fanatics are already popping up to defend the next iteration of their preferred console and the company that's bringing it to them, and I'm sure these gamers will be first in line to buy the XBONE when it's released, but objectively speaking, I don't know that it will be enough to turn the tides for Microsoft at this point.  Sony won the battle, and possibly the war, by doing something incredibly sneaky and underhanded that no one really ever considered doing up to this point: actually listening to their customers and then giving them what they wanted.  And that's going to make them a hell of a lot of money.


  1. I'm a bit disappointed that most of the games that are headliners are sequels. Video game production and Hollywood are so close these days.

    At any rate, I have to agree, the PS4 looks to be designed more with the users in mind whereas the XBONE seems to have been made to appease the desires of the developers. I understand wanting to please the developers as much as possible, but if you please the developers at the expense of the user experience you're ultimately fighting a losing battle since the developers will go where the users do.

    Also, when you were comparing the userbase for Xbox vs the userbase for PS I couldn't help but draw comparisons between the userbases of the PC and Apple.

  2. Great review. Helped me sort a few things out.

  3. Kelly: While there are definitely a lot of sequels and remakes coming out of E3, I think the majority of them are linked to the big franchises: Call of Duty, racing games, GTA, EA's sports games and so forth. The industry moneymakers, in other words, and naturally those are going to get a ton of press at an event like E3. The average consumer is going to be a lot less wary of something they're already familiar with, just with a new coat of paint.

    I'd say that the game I'm most excited for right now is Watch_Dogs, which is an entirely new IP and looks amazing. The Order: 1886 and various indies also look pretty intriguing, though I'm going to call my own bluff here and admit that I'm reserving judgment until I actually play them.